Going from having several already prepared options in the dining hall, to a fridge full of raw ingredients can be daunting. No need to worry, if this is your first time without a meal plan, with these nine tips, you’ll be an expert in college cooking in no time.
1. A few basics can take you a long way.
Take the time to learn how to make pasta, roast vegetables and cook chicken. Never overestimate the satisfaction of pasta with tomato sauce and basil. For a quick and easy dinner throw a bunch of veggies and a piece of salmon on aluminum foil with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and spices of your choice; and voila, a meal for one is ready.
2. Plan your meals and cook ahead.
Surviving college without a meal plan is easy, as long as you have…well, a meal plan. What do I mean? Instead of having the college make the plan for you, now it’s your turn.Plan your meals ahead and go to the grocery store with a list. The worst thing you can do is come home from the grocery store with a bunch of ingredients, none of which go together. You don’t have to cook every night of the week either. Take one or two nights to cook your meals for the week. Invest in containers, you’ll need lots of them to store your meals.
3. Don’t be afraid to start out simple.
Start out with something simple like smashed avocado toast with a fried egg. No need to try to be ambitious and cook coq au vin right away. Fancier doesn’t always mean better, especially if you don’t quite know what you’re doing in the kitchen yet.
4. Stock up on snacks and buy in bulk.
You can buy bulk nuts, nut butters, granola, and other grains for reasonable prices at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. Without a meal plan, you’ll quickly learn the importance of having snacks on hand. It is always good to have a couple bars and some other quick snacks in the cabinet for when you’re on the run or need a quick bite to eat.
5. Organize before you start cooking.
In the culinary world it’s called “mise en place,” which is a French phrase meaning “putting in place.” It is very easy to forget an ingredient or be scattered across the kitchen the first few times you cook. To avoid this, have everything prepared, cut and measured before you start cooking. This may lead to a few more dishes, but it is totally worth it when your food comes out amazing and hassle free.
6. Learn how to use the random leftover ingredients in your fridge.
Practically everything but the kitchen sink can go into a salad, an egg scramble or a sandwich. This is the best way to get rid of the extra wedge of avocado, leftover takeout chicken, or random part of a cucumber left in your fridge. Don’t be afraid to try some bold combinations; you might find a winning combination in there somewhere.
7. Frozen meals can be your best friend.
From fruit for a quick smoothie to an Amy’s burrito, it is always a good idea to keep some frozen food handy for the nights you really don’t want to have to cook and clean the kitchen. While most frozen foods are not great for you, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer many healthy options.
8. Look for deals at local eateries.
Many places will offer lunch deals or different food specials depending on the day of the week. Take some time to scope out the restaurants in your area for specialty nights such as Taco Tuesday, which is very popular in most cities. Some restaurants will even offer student discounts; it always pays to do a little research.
9. Find free food on campus.
Even without a meal plan, you will still find a surprising amount of free food on college campuses. Take advantage and be on the look out for events that provide food. Don’t be shy about attending events or meetings hosted by a club you are not a part of, maybe you’ll meet your new best friend at the snack table and end up joining the club, you never know.